The holidays can be very overwhelming for a family dealing with severe food allergies, especially if you are just starting this journey with a young child. It does get easier with every year as you learn new recipes, start new traditions and your family and friends become more familiar with your situation. Those first couple years were not easy for me at all. I watched parents bring trays of goodies into school that we could not go near and at family gatherings baskets of homemade treats that were also untouchable. It seemed so unfair. Here are some tips that help our family get through the holidays with less stress and worry.
- The school parties are inevitable. Try to volunteer the day of the party, especially the first few years of elementary school. This gives your child the comfort of knowing his parents can keep an eye out making sure the safe cupcake goes on your child's plate and preventing cross-contamination with all the kids reaching for different treats.
- It is not always possible to have everything in the room allergy safe for your child. But, by volunteering you can keep an eagle eye on the party.
- Whether you can volunteer or not, send in your child's favorite holiday treat. This makes your child feel like a regular kid and not singled out because he or she is eating their own "special" snack. I love seeing the kids react to how my cupcakes taste just like a regular cupcake even though they don't have milk and butter in them.
- If you cannot be in the room to volunteer for the party, clearly mark the food you send in so that the teacher and other volunteer parents can help keep your child safe. If you have a friend who can be at the party, ask him or her to keep an eye on your child and help point out what foods are safe.
- Also, if you cannot be in the room the day of the holiday party, get a list of what foods are coming in and go over them with your child so that he or she knows what is safe and what is not. Quite often parents ask me for ideas for food items to send in. Fruits and veggies are always a safe choice. Or you can offer a list of items that are safe. Just make sure to check the ingredients yourself first.
- For the first couple years of family parties, it can be overwhelming trying to make changes without your efforts to keep your child safe being confused with rudeness. Before life with allergies, one of my favorite things about the holidays was going home and being surrounded by platters of homemade chocolates and cookies and cheese spreads and well you get the picture. Now, my focus is making sure we have enough treats that are very similar to what I had growing up but are allergy safe. So here are a few tips for going home for the holidays:
- Share a list of what foods to avoid. We found the milk allergy to be very confusing in the beginning. I made a copy of what is considered milk that I had gotten from our allergist and my parents keep it taped to the inside of their food pantry. I don't expect them to be experts. But, I think over time, they have become more familiar with what we are dealing with.
- When your child is a toddler, instead of chasing them around hoping they don't swipe food off the kitchen table or island, keep the unsafe treats up a little higher and out of reach. It can be a little awkward rearranging your mother-in-law's display of desserts, but no one wants a trip to the emergency room on Christmas day.
- As your child gets older it does get easier. Now, I point out what foods he can have or make an area that is "safe". For instance, at my mother's I put the safe food on the island, so that he can help himself and feel a little more independent. The food on the dining room table is off limits without checking with me first.
- Lastly, have your child pick a few favorite holiday treats for you to make or better yet to make together.
~Most importantly, have a safe and very joyful holiday.